Your next trip to your local pet store may not be as simple as grabbing some treats or toys for Fido. You’ll notice that many of the products on offer now have long labels with confusing terms like “corn gluten meal,” “rice protein concentrate” and “animal digest.” A little research will tell you that all those ingredients are actually common grains and meat byproducts but exactly which ones should you avoid feeding your pup?
The answer depends largely on how old your dog is, how healthy he or she already is and whether or not you want to prevent certain diseases from developing later. For example, if a veterinarian has diagnosed your pet with diabetes, you might need to cut down his or her sugar intake. But there’s no specific diet that can cover every situation. The best thing you can do is educate yourself about different diets and their potential health risks.
It’s important to note that even though grains and meats byproducts sound scary, neither one poses many risks when prepared correctly. In fact, these two types of products are often used to add flavor to other foods. However, if you’re looking to put together a more specific diet plan for your dog, consult your vet first. He or she can help you decide the right amount of each ingredient to use while also keeping your pet safe and healthy.
A large number of processed foods contain various forms of grains. These include corn, wheat, barley, oats, rye, rice, and teff. When grain products are refined (removed) into flour, however, most people don’t realize that they aren’t eating whole grains anymore. Instead, they end up adding them to recipes without realizing it.
As such, the word “gluten” became synonymous with a harmful substance known as celiac disease. This autoimmune disorder causes severe damage to the small intestine when someone ingests even trace amounts of gluten. It affects only 1 percent of Americans.
Although not everyone who suffers from a celiac disease needs to completely eliminate grains from their diet, it’s still a good idea to keep an eye out for the term “gluten” on product labels. If you suspect that your dog could have this condition, speak to your vet immediately.
While anyone can develop celiac disease, the condition tends to affect older adults, children, and women more than men. Dogs can suffer from it too, but it usually doesn’t happen until their senior years. Although celiac disease is rare in dogs, one possible side effect of the illness is malnutrition. That’s because many owners mistakenly believe that their dogs get enough nutrients from table scraps instead of proper meals.
So, what happens when dogs eat grains? They break them down into glucose just like humans do. Glucose provides energy for the body, especially during exercise. Unfortunately, dogs also tend to overeat carbohydrates, which can lead to weight gain. Some breeds are naturally predisposed to obesity, including pugs and bull terriers. Obesity can lead to high blood pressure, cholesterol problems, heart disease, and stroke. Eating lots of grains can exacerbate these conditions.
When dogs consume too many grains, they can become constipated because they lack fiber. Their digestive system isn’t able to absorb enough water and nutrients from their food. To combat this problem, experts recommend feeding low-fiber diets to dogs twice per day. This allows them to spend less time lounging around in order to finish off their daily allowance of grains.
For the same reason, veterinarians advise against giving dogs bread, pasta, cookies, or anything else made from flour. Grain products provide quick energy, but they lack essential vitamins and minerals. We mentioned earlier that the words “meat byproducts” appear on many pet food labels. Let’s take a closer look at what exactly makes up this category.
Just as we discussed previously, meat byproducts refer to a wide range of animal parts that are used as additives or fillers. Many companies replace expensive cuts of meat with cheaper filler materials. Meat byproducts are commonly used in canned dog foods, dry kibble, and homemade diets.
Dogs can eat meat byproducts because they contain proteins, fats, and nutrients that our animals require to stay healthy. Proteins are composed of amino acids. Each type of protein contains three to 20 amino acids. One particular amino acid called tryptophan helps promote sleepiness. Tryptophan is found primarily in poultry. Other sources of this amino acid include eggs, milk, yogurt, cheese, and liver.
Fats are another type of nutrient contained within meat byproducts. Fat is a natural part of a carnivore’s diet. Carnivores’ fat supplies energy and helps regulate body temperature. Dogs are carnivores, after all. Because of this, fat is considered essential for canine nutrition. However, not all fats are created equal. Vegetable oils are one source of fat that manufacturers use in place of lean meat.
Even though vegetable oil sounds healthier than lard, it’s still saturated fat. Saturated fat increases the bad LDL cholesterol level in the bloodstream and raises the risk of cardiovascular disease. Also, excess consumption of vegetable oils can increase your dog’s appetite. Like humans, dogs shouldn’t consume more calories than their bodies burn through everyday activities.
Other ingredients that fall under the meat byproducts umbrella include chicken feet, hooves, lungs, spleens, and kidneys. While some of these items might seem gross to us, they’re actually quite nutritious. Lungs and hearts are rich in fatty acids, iron and vitamin C. Spleens and kidneys supply calcium, phosphorus, and magnesium. Finally, chicken feet contain keratin, which is similar to human hair and nails. Keratin protects bones from breaking down into unhealthy pieces.
Feeding your dog fresh vegetables and fruits gives him or her a better chance of absorbing vital nutrients and preventing chronic illnesses. Just like humans, dogs aren’t capable of producing vitamin C themselves. Fresh produce offers a great alternative source of vitamin C. Your dog can enjoy broccoli, bell peppers, oranges, tomatoes, and carrots. Make sure to wash your hands thoroughly before handling these foods.
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There is plenty of evidence showing that fresh plants, not grains, are the best choice for providing nutrition to your pet. Not only does your dog get more vitamins and minerals from fresh produce, but he or she receives fewer calories from carbs. Plants are full of fiber, which keeps your dog regular. Fiber plays a key role in digestion and prevents constipation. Additionally, raw vegetables and fruit give your pooch the energy needed to run around and play.
As previously stated, your dog can’t manufacture vitamin D on its own. Vitamin D deficiency leads to bone loss and weak muscles. The best way to ensure that your dog stays healthy is to supplement his or her diet with fish oil pills. Fish oil contains omega 3 fatty acids, which protect arteries and improve circulation. Omega 3 fatty acids also reduce inflammation throughout the body.
Finally, although we’ve talked extensively about the dangers of grains, we must mention that they do serve an important purpose. Grains help maintain strong teeth. Without them, your dog’s teeth would wear down faster. Similarly, carbohydrates help keep your dog’s skin healthy and youthful.
You don’t have to go completely grain-free to give your dog the nutrition it needs. Simply choose high-quality commercial brands over mass-produced bags of cheap pellets. Avoid buying organic versions of popular commercial brands. Organic food products contain higher levels of antioxidants, vitamins, and minerals. You can find organic alternatives to everything from beef to chocolate chips. Talk to your vet about the best diet options for your dog based on his or her age and overall health.